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What is the standard of animal welfare at Australian abattoirs?

Article ID: 478
Last updated: 02 Apr, 2019
Revision: 7
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In Australia, the killing of animals for food, fibre and other animal products (referred to as ‘slaughter’) is underpinned by minimal provisions in the Australian standard for the hygienic production and transport of meat and meat products for human consumption. The main objective of the standard is to ensure food safety, however, it also includes an animal welfare component.

The Australian meat industry has developed its own National animal welfare standards for livestock processing establishments. By incorporating these standards into their quality assurance program (and standard operating procedures), abattoirs are able to demonstrate (to the state meat authority) that they meet regulatory requirements as well as better practice in terms of animal care and welfare.

The industry standards cover six important areas that influence animal welfare at processing. These are:

  1. Standard operating procedures to prevent risks to animal welfare.
  2. Design and maintenance of facilities and equipment to ensure minimal interference or stress to livestock.
  3. All staff required to handle livestock are competent.
  4. Livestock that are weak, ill or injured are identified and promptly treated.
  5. Livestock are managed to minimise stress and injuries.
  6. Restraint, stunning and slaughter procedures are carried out humanely and effectively.
Standard procedures at Australian abattoirs are designed to hold and move animals throughout the facility in a calm, quiet and ‘low stress’ manner. Just prior to slaughter, animals are restrained and then stunned (rendered unconscious). An operator should then confirm that each animal is unconscious and will be insensible to pain when the major blood vessels are severed shortly afterwards. The animal should not regain consciousness and no further processing should take place until the animal is confirmed dead.

In Australia, abattoirs that export product overseas are regulated by the Australian Government (Department of Agriculture and Water Resources) whereas abattoirs that supply the domestic market are under the jurisdiction of state governments. Export abattoirs are required to have a vet present, they have to meet standard operating procedures relevant to animal welfare, and they are regularly audited including for their animal handling practices. Find out more about regulation of export abattoirs here. On the other hand, for domestic abattoirs, there is no need for an on-plant vet and auditing requirements vary between states. The minimal provisions for domestic abattoirs are described here. In short, the welfare of animals at domestic abattoirs may vary significantly to that of animals at export abattoirs. These differing standards of animal welfare between abattoirs is a concern that the RSPCA believes must be addressed.

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